Grassroots "Village Movement" for Older Adults

Paul Sobel leads meeting to organize Eastside Connections Village.
Paul Sobel leads meeting to organize Eastside Connections Village.

Rick: So we always hear the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” So now is it also fair to say – it takes a village to help folks grow old at home?

Kay: Certainly for folks in some communities the answer is yes. So far there are more than 120 of these so-called “villages” across the country – that’s according to the “Village-to-Village Network” … an umbrella not-for-profit organization that helps people start villages and provides support for existing ones.

Rick: So this “village concept” sounds a bit abstract … how exactly does a village work?

Kay: You can think of a village as a kind of “club” … and kind of a consumer-driven movement organized at the grassroots level by and for seniors. And essentially, you pay dues to belong to this club and, in return, get some direct services like maybe a ride to the doctor or grocery store. Sometimes these services are performed by other members who volunteer … plus outside volunteers help out. There are also social events such as lectures, exercise classes, and shared meals. The village also operates as a type of referral service for things like home repairs. If you need to hire someone, the village has a vetted list of contractors and businesses that offer special discounts to village members. The average dues for villages across the country run about $500 to $600 a year.

Rick: So that sounds kind of high …

Kay: Yes, it’s not cheap. According to a 2012 national survey by the University of Maryland, villages are serving mostly white women between the ages of 65 and 84 in middle and upper income brackets. Here in Ohio, there are villages in the Columbus neighborhood known as German Village and in Athens. Now there’s an effort to start the first village here in Northeast Ohio. It’s going by the name “Eastside Connections” and the man leading the effort is Paul Sobel. Sobel says he hopes to have the annual fee be $400 thanks to having a private foundation front lots of administrative costs. He also wants to make membership affordable for lower income folks.

Paul Sobel: “There are, for lack of a better term, scholarships. It’s based on knowing that the person is on a limited income. It’s usually a set fee and it is extremely confidential.”

Kay: So over the summer, I attended an organizational meeting for the Eastside Connections group. I met Mary Keane who is in her early 70’s and another gentleman, Jordan Rothkopf, in his late 60’s.

Mary Keane: “When you’re in an organization such as we’re trying to form and you can trust the service – that takes a real load off you. So I want to be involved with it. “

Jordan Rothkopf: “Someday we’re going to need help with some things. We don’t have family in town. And who are we going to turn to and I want to make sure there are people I trust to help me find the services I need."

Rick: So is there evidence these villages are effective?

Kay: Yes. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Health Education & Behavior found that 75% of 282 active village members in five sites in California reported the village increased their ability to age in place. But people in poor health did not seem to benefit as much, so this village model may not be the answer for more frail seniors. Other surveys have raised questions about the financial sustainability of villages, as well as the lack of minority and ethnic diversity among members.

Rick: So when do they hope to have this local village up and running?

Kay: Sobel says he hopes to have something going by late spring 2015.

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